Music Industry

Wanna Know Why Artists Have Trouble Getting Paid Today? Dirty Digital Data

You’d think that by now someone somewhere would have created a massive digital database contain information about every song that’s available for download purchases and streaming. But guess what? There isn’t.

Oh, it’s been tried with a project called The Global Repertoire Database (GRD), but it never got off the group. And yes, there’s something called ISRC numbering, which is akin to the ISBN system used for books, but there are many, many millions of songs that have never been assigned such a number–including thousands (millions?) of songs that are routinely streamed on services like Spotify.

Then there are the millions of digital tracks with incomplete or incorrect metadata.

Here’s the rub to all of this: any song without an ISRC number and bad metadata can’t be tracked and reported. And if it can’t be tracked and reported, the artist cannot get paid. Money is often (and is supposed to be) set aside in trust until ownership of a song can be determined and the monies dispersed. That’s the theory, anyway.

Until we have a proper and comprehensive global database of songs, rightsholders may never see the amount of money they’re owed for the use of their music.

The industry realizes that they have a big, big problem–not least of which involves potential legal action from a bunch of different directions. It’s in everyone’s best interest to solve this situation now.

Two solutions are currently being proposed: Google’s Open Source Validation Tool for DDEX Standard (doesn’t that roll off the tongue?) and SOCAN’s plans for Medianet.

For more, let’s go to Music Industry Blog:

Artist concerns about transparency in streaming services are well founded but it is an eminently fixable problem because virtually all of the necessary data is in place. When a record label or distributor licenses music to a service it literally provides a data file of its music which is then ingested (uploaded) by the service. But when service licenses from a music publisher or PRO there is no such data file, because the recorded works are owned by the labels. Publishers do not even provide a comprehensive list of what works their license covers. So music services instead do a ‘best efforts’ licensing effort, licensing all the key publishers and PROs. This model is though far, far from perfect, because:

  • Songs often have multiple writers, some of whom may be signed to bigger publishers, others not. So a single song could be covered by licenses acquired from three or four publishers and still not be fully licensed
  • Songwriters change publishers and most often publishers do not notify services, so a licensed song can suddenly become an unlicensed song without the service knowing it
  • Many songwriters are only small publishers not licensed to music services

But perhaps the biggest problem of all is the lack of a single database of compositional works against which music services can cross reference their catalogues, even better would be one that matches all compositional works against recorded works. Without them we end up with large swathes of songwriter royalties not being matched against and paid to the songwriter. Depending on who you talk to this can range between 20% and 40% of digital royalty income. Little wonder then that we end up with class action suits from disgruntled songwriters.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38319 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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